The European COST Action IS 0901 (‘Women Writers In History’; 2009-2013; www.womenwriters.nl) will present, through this poster, different aspects of its current activities. These aim at the constitution of a Europe wide (and beyond…) network of researchers, who plan to collectively rewrite European literary history: to give women their due place in transnational literary historiography before 1900, from the Medieval period up to the early 20th century.
Current ways of studying women’s writing, by country or even individual author, do not do justice to women’s contribution to the literary field. Recent publications show that women played important parts as authors, readers, and intermediaries, particularly on the international level: many were allowed to learn languages, and turned their expertise into the profession of translator.
This active female participation needs to be studied more broadly, without treating each woman as an exceptional case. Therefore the project has developed a digital research infrastructure, the WomenWriters database (www.databasewomenwriters.nl), in which the project members have the possibility of sharing their research data (inevitably relevant to each of them), collaborating together in the same tool, as individual researchers and as interconnected projects, creating means for textual and comparative analysis of texts (primary and secondary texts) written in different languages.
Our poster will present:
1. the WomenWriters database, which is currently being developed into a broader Research Environment (plans for development will be included),
2. an example of the types of sources we use to develop large-scale approaches that encourage the serendipitous finding of connections between women authors, works, and countries through readers
as well as two examples of the projects, which will be interconnected to the database (in its next version):
3. a project concerning one individual author: the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf, and
4. an annotating project presently developed and tested for future use in establishing connections between texts, and formulating the significant relationships existing between them.
The WomenWriters database allows researchers to generate new knowledge about women’s impact on their contemporary or early readers: we proceed by large-scale data entry about their works’ reception, without focusing on particular authors. This is how serendipitous findings are provoked: by including information either about authors we did not know as yet, or about reception we would not have been aware of or looking at. The tool currently contains over 20.000 manually processed reception data, which prepare an important empirical basis for research in European women’s literary history. We will gradually complement (or even: replace?) manual processing by technological solutions, and collaboration with other online projects.
One of the challenges is in the way of handling the activities of these authors starting from the reception side. Characteristic of the WomenWriters database (present form) is that it is not just composed of the two ‘classical’ entities: Author and Work. A third one has been added: the Reader. This structure materializes Todorov’s scheme, putting in between writer and reader the imaginary world created by the one and to be ‘constructed’ in the other’s head (Todorov 1980). From our point of view a book/text only gets historical relevance by having been read – this is why we added, next to the Author-Work, the Work-Reader connection.
This symmetrical structure however fails to do justice to the real dynamics of ongoing literary communication: receivers can become senders, even without profiling themselves as intermediaries or translators. Which leads to a view of literary communication as being a series of texts generating each other through the intervention of a reader turned writer. A new data model has been presented doing justice to this, allowing at the same time interconnectivity with related projects.
In this project, we use different kinds of large-scale sources that contain information about these authors’ early reception, and provide the data we work on. They include bio-bibliographic compilations of European women writers, compiled after the example of Boccaccio’s Famous Women (1361-75) as the databases of their time. This genre spread across Europe, to become an on-going transnational phenomenon that exists today as bio-bibliographic dictionaries and databases. Recording the traces of women and works, some of whom seem to have left no other mark in literary history, and are part of what Margaret Cohen refers to as the ‘great unread’ (1999), they have taken many forms over the centuries. Compilers rely on, disagree with, and often simply borrow their predecessors’ work. Together with other sources, this material allows us to understand and describe the presence of women authors (as a category, or taken individually) over the centuries both using numbers and studying the tropes by which these women are represented. Some of these compilations are available online, which facilitates their use for this kind of analysis.
WomenWriters is the only transnational database of women writers that brings together the whole spectrum of sources for literary markets and literary fields of small and large nations, and can be considered as the ultimate bio-bibliographical compilation.
Arguments for investing resources in digital scholarly editions are often based upon the cultural dignity of the authorship (Shillingsburg 2004). For Selma Lagerlöf (first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature), this is above any doubt. But scholarly editions that focus on single, canonized authorships represent the author in splendid isolation. On the other hand, for WomenWriters it is important to include as many data as possible on the production and reception of those authors who may have been role models for writers all over Europe – in particular as these data already exist in digital form and are interconnectible.
The Selma Lagerlöf Archive aims to create such a broader (gender) historical context that includes the intensive contacts within networks of European translators and writers that were important for Lagerlöf’s success in Europe. These can in particular be traced thanks to our participation in the COST-WWIH Action, which has facilitated, and will continue to do so, the discovery of unknown connections between European women and Lagerlöf. Standardizing the different entities data will allow, by way of micro services currently developed, exchanging information on these levels.
Here, we benefit from work carried out in COST Action ‘Interedition’ (Joris van Zundert et al.), where the SLA also participated, and where Juxta and CollateX have been developed, to explore patterns in the reception of women writers by critics, and whether they correspond to specific themes in the literary texts. The same method may be used to collate texts by different female authors as a shortcut to discovering common topics. The advantage of this method is, again, that researchers don’t have to know beforehand what to search for: unexpected similarities may appear, that researchers might not have imagined.
Within this COST-WWIH Action, we are proceeding toward a next version of the WomenWriters database, to make it available for other applications and usable outside its original application in such a way that different communities of scholars can ask questions from the same sets of data. Complutense University teams are now testing @Note, an annotation tool capable of supporting collaborative work on texts, using women’s European reception as a case study.
They are developing an innovative annotation method, which will be used in our project for specifying and formulating significant relationships between the texts we are studying. They can be annotated using a shared annotation schema; adding new terms and relationships to the schema as they are required during the annotation process; making it possible for authorized users to edit and to restructure the schema.
As a concrete example, we will present the outcome of an experience of collaborative annotation of the Spanish translation of Mme de Graffigny’s famous novel Lettres d’une péruvienne (1747): Cartas de una peruana (1792, 1823) by María Romero, both translations available in Google Books and Hathi Trust, and included in the WomenWriters database.
Cohen, M. (1999). The sentimental education of the novel. Princeton: Princeton UP.
Shillingsburg, P. (2004). Hagiolatry, Cultural Engineering, Monument Building, and Other Functions of Scholarly Editing. In R. Mondiano, L. F. Searle, and P. Shillingsburg (eds.), Voice, Text, Hypertext. Emerging Practices in Textual Studies. Seattle, Washington: U of Washington P.
Todorov, T. (1980). La lecture comme construction. In Poétique de la prose. Paris: Seuil.